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NEWS UPDATE #183


HIGHLIGHTS: *India ranks 177 out of 180 in Environmental Performance Index globally *India most vulnerable country to climate change, says HSBC report *42 Indian rivers have extremely high concentration of neurotoxic heavy metals *Rural wage growth down from 8.4% under UPA to 0.2% under NDA: Crisil report *Renewable Energy Now Employs 10.3 Million People Globally

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INDIA

India ranks 177 out of 180 in Environmental Performance Index
The Hindu
India is among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index 2018, plummeting 36 points from 141 in 2016, according to a biennial report by Yale and Columbia Universities along with the World Economic Forum. While India is at the bottom of the list in the environmental health category, it ranks 178 out of 180 as far as air quality is concerned. Its overall low ranking — 177 among 180 countries — was linked to poor performance in the environment health policy and deaths due to air pollution categories.

India most vulnerable country to climate change – HSBC report
Reuters
India is the most vulnerable country to climate change, followed by Pakistan, the Philippines and Bangladesh, a ranking by HSBC showed. The bank assessed 67 developed, emerging and frontier markets on vulnerability to the physical impacts of climate change, sensitivity to extreme weather events, exposure to energy transition risks and ability to respond to climate change. The 67 nations represent almost a third of the world’s nation states, 80 percent of the global population and 94 percent of global gross domestic product.

India has warmed rapidly in the past 70 years: study
Down to Earth
A new study on climate change in India has confirmed a rapid rise in surface temperatures in the past 70 years. The study calculated temperature rise in terms of change occurring from decade to decade, using information from two different datasets covering the period from 1951 to 2013. The temperature data came from 395 met stations across the country. Maximum, minimum and daily mean temperature data was analysed for summer, monsoon and winter periods. There is a notable warming trend in northwestern India beginning in the 1970s and accelerating in the 2000s and 2010s, the study has found. (Related: Indian scientists have confirmed and tracked the  massive retreat—over 3kms—of Pindari, an important Himalayan glacier, attributing it to climate change)

NEERI made way for Sterlite to pollute Tuticorin
Down to Earth
The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has conducted multiple studies on the environmental impact of Sterlite’s controversial copper smelting plant in Tuticorin. The first of these published in November, 1998, was conducted on the direction of the Madras High Court. This NEERI report was highly critical of the environmental norms flouted by Sterlite in the construction of the plant. But just a few months later in February, 1999, the same institution gave a clean chit to Sterlite even though it had found more than permissible amounts of groundwater and air pollutants in and around the factory site. According to Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist and writer, “This was the beginning of a bonanza for NEERI. It received contracts worth Rs 1.27 crore from Sterlite in between 1999 and 2007 for various reports in which it was not as stringent with Sterlite’s operations as it was in its first report in 1998.” (Related:: TN govt orders permanent closure of Vedanta group’s Sterlite plant in Tuticorin)

What was done with the Rs. 100 crore fine Vedanta paid for Sterlite violations? Not much, finds RTI query
The News Minute
Over the last five years, the Thoothukudi district administration has failed to not only address the angst of residents over pollution by Sterlite copper but also to utilise funds to improve the environment in the vicinity of the plant, government documents received under RTI show. Of the Rs.100 crore deposited by Sterlite industries as penalty for violating pollution control and environment norms in 2013, only Rs.7 crore has been spent. The Supreme Court had directed that the compensation that was being levied for polluting the environment and operating the plant without consent, should be deposited by the Thoothukudi Collector in a fixed deposit. (Related: In A Village 3 Km From Sterlite Plant, Every Other House Has A Cancer Patient)

India Is Overtaking China as the World’s Largest Emitter of Anthropogenic Sulfur Dioxide
Nature
Here we use satellite observations to show that China and India are on opposite trajectories for sulfurous pollution. Since 2007, emissions in China have declined by 75% while those in India have increased by 50%. With these changes, India is now surpassing China as the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic SO. This finding, not predicted by emission scenarios, suggests effective SO control in China and lack thereof in India. In India, ~33 million people now live in areas with substantial SO pollution. (Related: World Pollutionwatch: evidence grows of lifelong harm from polluted air)

42 rivers have extremely high concentration of neurotoxic heavy metals
Down to Earth
India’s 42 rivers have at least two toxic heavy metals beyond the permissible limit, says a research conducted by Central Water Commission. The study, which tested samples of river water collected from 16 river basins during three seasons—summer, winter and monsoon—found huge amount of lead in 69 rivers. The study also showed that most rivers (137) had iron beyond permissible limits. After testing samples collected from 414 stations setup along rivers, water at 136 stations was declared fit for use and at 168 stations were found unfit for drinking due to iron concentration in it. (Related: Thousands of dead fish found floating in Ganga, experts blame toxic effluents)

Rural wage growth down from 8.4% under UPA to 0.2% under NDA, farmers now not getting support price: Crisil
Counterview
Crisil, India’s leading rating agency, has lamented that things have been worse for the country’s rural sector, which, it has said, “has been riddled with challenges including slower agricultural growth, poor farm price realisation, slowdown in construction activity, and sluggish rural wage growth.” In fact, Crisil warns, “An unhappy hinterland can turn out to be the proverbial Achilles’ heel for any government during elections”, asking the Modi government to take mitigating measures that may help improve the situation “in the short run, such as increase in minimum support price and price deficiency payment scheme”, even as strengthening “the non-agriculture rural economy by front-loading infrastructure development and construction activities.”

Stanford epidemiologist discusses a little-known virus that could become the next global pandemic
Stanford.edu
A little-known virus discovered 20 years ago could become the next global pandemic. A recent outbreak of Nipah in Kerala has renewed interest in the virus, which has a mortality rate of up to 70 percent and has no vaccine or cure. The virus has so far killed 11 in the current outbreak, with 14 additional cases confirmed. It has many strains capable of spreading from person to person, which increases the chances of a strain emerging that rapidly spreads among South Asia’s densely populated communities and beyond. Stephen Luby explains risk factors and potential interventions.

Kamaljit Bawa first Indian to receive Linnean Medal in Botany
The Hindu
Indian botanist Kamaljit S. Bawa, president of Bengaluru-based non-profit Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), received the prestigious Linnean Medal in Botany from the Linnean Society of London on May 24. Dr. Bawa is the first Indian to win the award ever since it was first constituted in 1888. According to a press release by ATREE, the scientist is being recognised for his pioneering research on the evolution of tropical plants, tropical deforestation, non-timber forest products and for decades of work on the biodiversity of forests in Central America, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalaya.

Greens oppose move to ease eco norms for builders
The Times of India
With BJP government at the Centre planning to issue final notification exempting building and construction projects up to 50,000 sqmtrs from environment clearance (EC) requirement, NGOs have opposed the move. They have moved the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) saying it will benefit builders under the garb of providing housing to urban poor. The notification proposes to amend the EIA Notification, 2006, by increasing the exemption threshold from 20,000 sqmtrs (2.15 lakh sqft) to 50,000 sqmtrs (5.38 lakh sqft), which means projects less than that will not require any prior EC.

India’s latest power debacle is Enron times 20
The Economic Times
India’s total electricity-generation ability is 344,000 megawatts, a 72 percent increase over six years. The country, notorious for its outages, still doesn’t have a power surplus. But coal-fired plants in the private sector that ran at 84 percent capacity utilization at the start of the decade are struggling to stay alive with load factors of 55 percent. As much as 40,000 megawatts of capacity — equal to 20 Enron plants — has become stressed assets for the banking system.

Ministry seeks public comments on new draft CRZ Notification
Namati CPR
A new draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2018 has been put out for public comments by the Ministry. The last date for sending comments is 17 June 2018. The Ministry states that the draft is based on the CRZ review conducted by the Shailesh Nayak Committee in 2014. The recommendations and full report of the Shailesh Nayak Committee can be accessed here. The CPR-Namati Environmental Justice Program has prepared a detailed comparative analysis between the CRZ Notification 2011, recommendations of the Shailesh Nayak Committee and the Draft CRZ Notification, 2018 and its implications. This can be accessed here.

Cabinet approves National Biofuel Policy
Times of India
The Cabinet approved the National Policy on Biofuels which allows doping of ethanol produced from damaged foodgrains, rotten potatoes, corn and sugar beet with petrol to cut oil imports by Rs 4,000 crore this year alone. Till now only ethanol produced from sugarcane was allowed to be mixed in petrol. A meeting of the Union Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the new policy which categorises biofuels as First Generation (1G), which produce bio-ethanol from molasses and bio-diesel from non-edible oilseeds. Second Generation (2G) ethanol can be produced from municipal solid waste and Third Generation (3G) fuels like bio-CNG.

Bhakra water level low, Punjab stares at paddy-sowing crisis
Hindustan Times
With the Bhakra reservoir level going below 1,500 feet in May, nearly 50 feet lower than the same time last year, the states of Punjab and Rajasthan are staring at an irrigation crisis during the paddy-sowing season. More worrying is the decline in water inflow since melting of snow in the glaciers is almost half of the normal this year. The water level at Bhakra on Saturday was recorded at 1,495 feet against 1,545 feet on the corresponding day in 2017.

Algae chokes Hyderabad’s drinking water lifelines, sparks alarm
Times of India
Osmansagar and Himayatsagar, two major drinking water sources for twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, are now infested with algal growth. The presence of unwanted vegetation indicates that the drinking water sources are gradually losing their pristine environment. A thick blanket of weeds and algae has formed in the shores of the lakes as water has been impounded for long. Lack of outflow has led to stagnation of water in the lakes resulting in algal bloom. (Also read: Shimla runs out of water; residents, tourists sweat)

Fire continues to rage in Uttarakhand forests; locals complain of govt inaction
Down to Earth
Forest fire has been raging in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand for five days now. Srinagar, the largest town in the Garhwal Hills, is the worst affected with fire engulfing different parts of the forest area. While locals residing in proximity to raging forests complain of inaction on the part of the administration, the forest department and Kalagarh tiger reserve officials admit that their efforts are being hindered by insufficient resources and manpower. According to media reports, the department has admitted that it has limited vehicles and equipment necessary to tackle forest fires.

Kerala: White Paper on Environment throws up alarming figures
The New Indian Express
Kerala’s environment faces a major threat with its rivers and wells becoming highly polluted, area of dense forest and paddy fields decreasing rapidly and air in three major cities marking rise in level of air pollution. The White Paper on Environment, cleared by the Cabinet on Wednesday, points to alarming indicators on environmental destruction. The White Paper aims to open up a debate with an aim to identify the area of protection activities. (Also read: Kerala’s waterways plan will serve no purpose: Sreedharan)

“Forced To Buy Water”, Say Locals As Groundwater Level Dips In Tamil Nadu’s Rameshwaram
NDTV
With rising temperature and intense heat condition, Tamil Nadu’s Rameshwaram, known for its Ramanathaswamy Temple, is seeing a drop in the groundwater level. Non-action by officials is adding to the disappointment of the locals, they say. “This season, the water scarcity is acute and is evident from the fact that perennial wells have also gone dry. We are forced to buy a pot of water for Rs. 5,” say locals. Water scarcity has been a pressing problem in Tamil Nadu and has impacted agriculture in a huge way. It has even forced farmers to abandon cultivation of the water-intensive paddy.

NHAI diverts Yamuna flow to build bridge; water treatment plant hit
Times of India
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has started construction of the third bridge on the Yamuna at Agra without taking compulsory permission from the Agra Municipal Corporation (AMC) and the district administration. NHAI has allegedly diverted flow of Yamuna to do the ground work for construction of the bridge. This has resulted in less water reaching the Jeevani Mandi water works station. The canal through which river water reached the plant is now filled with sand.

We voted to keep the bullet train out: Palghar tribals
The Hindu
Amid allegations of EVM malfunctions and the political slugfest that followed on Monday, tribals in Palghar said they cast their votes in the bye-election to the Lok Sabha seat in the hope to keep their ancestral land from being acquired for the bullet train project. Most said they didn’t believe their situation would change. Mr. Redia, who says he participated in the Farmers Long March in Dahanu last month to protest the bullet train project, added, “People in this region will be badly affected by the project. They’ll be uprooted from their land, which is why they voting in large numbers to change the situation.”

WORLD

Death toll climbs in Karachi heatwave
The Guardian
An intense heatwave across south Asia has killed dozens of people with sustained temperatures in excess of 40C (104F) coinciding with power cuts and Ramadan, when many Muslims avoid eating or drinking water. At least 65 people have died in Karachi in recent days according to the charitable organisation that runs the central morgue in the Pakistani port city, as volunteers handed out water to labourers and others working outside in temperatures as high as 44C.

Worst-case climate change scenario is even worse than we thought
New Scientist
How much the climate will change depends on how much greenhouse gas we emit, which in turn depends on the choices we make as a society – including how the global economy behaves. To handle this, climatologists use four scenarios called RCPs, each of which describes a different possible future. The RCP8.5 scenario is the worst for the climate. It assumes rapid, unfettered economic growth and rampant burning of fossil fuels. It now seems RCP8.5 may have underestimated the emissions that would result if we follow the economic path it describes. (Related: Nicholas Stern: cost of global warming ‘is worse than I feared’)

Alien Waters: Neighboring Seas Are Flowing into a Warming Arctic Ocean
Yale Environment 360
As the Arctic heats up faster than any other region on the planet, once-distinct boundaries between the frigid polar ocean and its warmer, neighboring oceans are beginning to blur, opening the gates to southern waters bearing foreign species, from phytoplankton to whales. The “Atlantification” and “Pacification” of the Arctic Ocean are now rapidly advancing. A new paper by University of Washington oceanographer Rebecca Woodgate, for example, finds that the volume of Pacific Ocean water flowing north into the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait surged up to 70 percent over the past decade and now equals 50 times the annual flow of the Mississippi River.

‘Shocking’ human impact reported on world’s protected areas
BBC News
One third of the world’s protected lands are being degraded by human activities and are not fit for purpose, according to a new study. Six million sq km of forests, parks and conservation areas are under “intense human pressure” from mining, logging and farming. Countries rich and poor, are quick to designate protected areas but fail to follow up with funding and enforcement. This is why biodiversity is still in catastrophic decline, the authors say. (Related: Half of African species ‘face extinction’)

2018 Global Report on Food Crises shows rising food insecurity, need to build resilience
IFPRI
In 2017, an estimated 124 million people faced crisis-level food insecurity or worse, up from 108 million in 2016. This rise in food insecurity has been driven by ongoing conflict and persistent drought, two trends that are expected to continue in 2018. This means that the number of people facing acute food crises will likely continue to rise. These alarming findings were presented at IFPRI’s April 27 Washington, D.C., launch of the 2018 Global Report on Food Crises, produced by 12 leading global and regional organizations and released by the Food Security Information Network (FSIN). (Related: FAO report highlights that livestock manure is one of the top sources of soil contamination)

Renewable Energy Now Employs 10.3 Million People Globally
Yale Environment 360
The renewable energy industry employs 10.3 million people worldwide, according to new data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). And the sector is growing rapidly, adding more than 500,000 jobs last year alone, an increase of 5.3 percent from 2016, PV Magazine reported. The solar industry accounts for the largest share of jobs in renewable energy, with nearly 3.4 million people employed in research, production, installation and maintenance of solar panels — an increase of 9 percent from 2016. The solar sector is followed by liquid biofuels, with 1.9 million jobs, and hydropower, with 1.5 million.

Negative emissions: Scientists meet in Sweden for first international conference
Carbon Brief
This week, Gothenburg in Sweden played host to the first international conference on “negative emissions”. The three-day event brought together around 250 researchers at Chalmers University of Technology to discuss the different ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it on land, underground or in the oceans. The topics presented and debated ranged from “natural” solutions to the technologically advanced, through to the potential limitations and risks. Running parallel to the scientific discussions was a focus on the policy challenges.

‘We can’t see a future’: group takes EU to court over climate change
The Guardian
Lawyers acting for a group including a French lavender farmer and members of the indigenous Sami community in Sweden have launched legal action against the EU’s institutions for failing to adequately protect them against climate change. A case is being pursued in the Luxembourg-based general court, Europe’s second highest, against the European parliament and the council of the European Union for allowing overly high greenhouse gas emissions to continue until 2030. The litigants, from Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Kenya, Fiji, and the Swedish Sami Youth Association Sáminuorra, say the EU should define a higher reduction target. (Related: 1) African cities pledge to cut climate emissions to zero by 2050 2) Scotland draft climate change bill sets 90%-by-2050 emission reduction target)

China, India outsource emissions, risking climate goal – study
Reuters
A rising tide of industries moving operations from China and India to less-developed Asian countries undermines global targets to reduce climate-changing emissions, researchers said. Many energy-intensive industries, including manufacturing and raw materials processing, are relocating to cheaper countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, a study by Britain’s University of East Anglia (UEA) showed on Monday. Efforts by smaller developing nations have a growing role to play in staying below that limit – but it could be jeopardized by the new pattern of manufacturing, the report added. (Related: 1) Pollutionwatch: Air contamination drops by 30% in China 2) Hitting toughest climate target will save world $30tn in damages, analysis shows)

Mekong River nations face the hidden costs of China’s dams
Nikkei Asian Review
China’s controversial dam building — both on its section of the river upstream and, increasingly, in Southeast Asia — is dramatically changing the livelihoods of many of the 60 million people living in the region who depend on the Mekong for water, fish, transportation and irrigation. Its control of the water upstream is a particular source of friction and concern to the countries further south. Some experts compare the downstream Mekong countries’ water security risk — which includes risks to their food supplies and commercial activity — to China’s controversial island-building in the South China Sea. (Related: Leaked report warns Cambodia’s biggest dam could ‘literally kill’ Mekong river)

Greenpeace disowns paper giant over deforestation allegations
Mongabay
Recent findings of deforestation by two companies with ties to the Sinar Mas Group and its pulp and paper arm, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), have led Greenpeace to end its engagement with the Indonesian conglomerate. According to a new mapping analysis by Greenpeace, 80 square kilometers (30 square miles) of forests and peatlands, an area half the size of Washington DC, has been cleared since 2013 in two concessions that are linked to the paper giant. Greenpeace said this finding had put APP’s commitment to end deforestation in jeopardy.

Plastic Bag Found at the Bottom of the World’s Deepest Waters
EcoWatch
Man-made trash has sunk to new depths. A recent paper published in the journal Marine Policy details the staggering amount of plastic and other debris found at the bottom of the world’s deepest ocean trench. At least 3,000 pieces of litter, with some dating back 30 years, can be found in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. This information was obtained by researchers combing through the Deep-sea Debris Database operated by the Global Oceanographic Data Centre of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC). (Related: Point Nemo is the most remote oceanic spot – yet it’s still awash with plastic)

NHK Drops Bombshell On Fukushima Disaster In New Documentary
Fukuleaks
NHK’s new documentary, Meltdown: Cooling Water Crisis provides new insight into a series of less known events in the Fukushima disaster. Between March 18 – 21 of the 2011 disaster, white and black smoke was seen leaving the unit 3 reactor well in significant quantities. At the time TEPCO claimed they didn’t know a reason. At the time a few radiation readings outside the plant caused concern that the two things were related. All of this was mostly ignored by TEPCO and the press. New investigative research supported by NHK TV found a series of significant events that shed light on what happened during these later days of the disaster.

Landmark lawsuit claims Monsanto hid cancer danger of weedkiller for decades
The Guardian
On 18 June, DeWayne Johnson will become the first person to take the global seed and chemical company to trial on allegations that it has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its popular Roundup herbicide products – and his case has just received a major boost. Last week Judge Curtis Karnow issued an order clearing the way for jurors to consider not just scientific evidence related to what caused Johnson’s cancer, but allegations that Monsanto suppressed evidence of the risks of its weed killing products. Karnow ruled that the trial will proceed and a jury would be allowed to consider possible punitive damages.

Five years after West Fertilizer explosion, EPA rolls back chemical safety reforms
Chron
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected next month to roll back chemical plant safety reforms that the Obama administration proposed after 15 people died in a fertilizer plant explosion in West. The rollback means the disaster, which exposed wide safety gaps in the industry and its oversight, will result in no significant federal regulatory changes, as the Austin American-Statesman reports. The April 17, 2013, blast injured more than 150 and destroyed a section of town, including an apartment building and a high school.

Chevron Constructing “Fortress of Deceit” to Hide $12b Pollution Liability on Eve of Shareholder Meeting
CSR Wire
With pressure mounting from shareholders and the world’s leading on-line activist group over a $12b Ecuador pollution disaster, Chevron’s management team is trying to erect a “fortress of lies and deceit” in advance of the company’s annual meeting Wednesday to distract from a failed litigation strategy that poses major financial risk to company shareholders, according to an interview with Steven Donziger, a leading American human rights lawyer.

Dutch support soy transport mega-project, posing major risk to Amazon
Mongabay
For more than a decade, the Netherlands has vigorously supported Brazil in development of the Northern Corridor, a mega-infrastructure transportation initiative that would transport soy and other commodities from Matto Grosso state via new road, rail and port projects to the Tapajós River in Pará state, then downriver to the Amazon, and to the Atlantic for export. Although the Netherlands government publically says these projects will be constructed in a “sustainable” manner and reduce fuel used in transport, analysts — and even the Dutch government itself — say that the new harbors, roads and railroads would contribute significantly to deforestation, land grabbing and rural violence by bringing many new loggers, cattle ranchers, soy growers, and settlers into the Amazon region.

Roads might pose even bigger threat to Southeast Asian forests, biodiversity than previously understood
Mongabay
According to Alice Hughes, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Centre for Integrative Conservation, global analyses often underestimate levels of deforestation driven by road-building in the Indo-Malaysia region. This is because many of those analyses rely on a widely used global map of roads compiled by Open Street Maps (OSM) that misses as much as 99 percent of roads in parts of the region. According to Hughes, this level of inaccuracy can have serious consequences: “Not only does it mean that any analysis based on global roads datasets will underestimate the level of fragmentation and overestimate the forest coverage of a region, but most forms of exploitation also occur within close proximity to a road.”

New Zealand ‘marine heatwave’ brings tropical fish from 3,000km away
The Guardian
Rare tropical fish from Australia have been spotted in New Zealand waters after a record-breaking hot summer and warm ocean temperatures lured the creatures across the Tasman sea. The Queensland groper, also known as the giant grouper, is the aquatic emblem of the state and was spotted swimming around the wreck of the HMNZ Canterbury in the Bay of Islands on Sunday, more than 3,000 kilometres away from its usual cruising spots on the coral reefs and estuaries off the Queensland coast. (Also read: Australia completes world’s largest cat-proof fence to protect endangered marsupials)

Analysis: The gender, nationality and institution of IPCC AR6
Carbon Brief
Since being founded in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published five sets of “assessment reports” on the state of climate science, involving hundreds of scientists from across the world. A sixth set (“AR6”) is slated for completion in 2022, with the IPCC issuing a call for nominations for authors in September last year. The final lists of authors for all three “working groups” have now been confirmed. For AR6, the IPCC has selected 721 authors, representing 90 different nationalities. This is a slight reduction on the 829 authors for the fifth assessment report (AR5) published in 2013-14. Using the information provided by the IPCC, Carbon Brief reveals the mix of nationalities and genders across the authors, as well as the institutions they represent.

 

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